SUN Hockey Pool

Saskin could face a massive player revolt

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:32 PM ET

Ted Saskin "dodged a bullet" when he was approved as the new executive director of the NHL Players' Association.

But he's not out of the woods yet.

While Saskin will make a reported $10 million (all terms US) over five years in his new contact, many members of the 'PA are concerned about what the escrow portion of the new collective bargaining agreement holds for them.

While the players approved Saskin's deal 10 days ago during a heated five-hour conference call with president Trevor Linden, the word is Saskin and Co. could face a mutiny once the rank and file has to start paying into the owners' escrow account.

"My feeling is Saskin could have a revolution on his hands," said a well-placed league source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

League teams have already spent $922 million on salaries this year -- beyond the 54% threshhold in the new CBA, based on projected NHL revenues of $1.7 billion.

(It should be noted the salary total could drop because it includes players who are on two-way deals).

Under the terms of the CBA, if player salaries exceed 54% of league revenues at any point during the six-year agreement, then the players must make up for the shortfall by giving money back to the owners. The word is that escrow figure could run between 10-20%.

$100,000 HIT?

That means a player earning $1 million could be forced to turn over anywhere between $100,000-$200,000 to the owners by the end of the season. The first escrow deduction will be made from players' paycheques Nov. 15 and there's talk it could be a 20% hit. That could sting extra hard for a player on a Canadian team, which is already being taxed at about 50% of his salary.

"I'm not sure the young players realize the impact that escrow is going to have on them," said another league source. "It's different for the older players because they're only going to be in it for a couple of years and then they'll retire.

"The whole thing is ridiculous. What's tough for a lot of players to swallow is the fact that this was something (former executive director) Bob Goodenow had talked a lot about not taking. The NBA players pay into escrow and they were told this was a stupid system. Then the (NHL) players ended up taking it."

CONTROVERSIAL VOTE

All this comes amid controversy over the hiring of Saskin in the first place. A group of players -- led by executive committee members Trent Klatt and Arturs Irbe -- hired lawyer Bob Lanza (a former NBA employee) and fired off a letter to Saskin and Linden, suggesting the process used to select the new executive director violated the union's constitution.

A report yesterday indicated Klatt, Lanza and Saskin will hold a face-to-face meeting about the matter.

Though there were plenty of fireworks in the conference call with the 30 player representatives, Saskin's contract was approved because Linden convinced everybody it was time to move forward and they had the right man for the job. Sources say some players had hung up on the call and had to be brought back out of bed at 2 a.m. to vote on Saskin's deal.

As a result, expect to see changes in the seven-player NHLPA executive committee, which includes Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. The retirement of Vincent Damphousse means his spot needs to be filled and the word is it will go to Detroit Red Wings winger Brendan Shanahan, who played an key role in negotiating the new CBA.

As for Irbe, he's persona non grata -- along with Klatt -- after their push to have a search committee formed to find a replacement. Irbe won't be able to remain active with the union because he'll probably be without an NHL contract once the season starts.

This week, though, all of that is pushed to the background. Training camps open and, finally for the players, the focus moves back onto the ice. Until they see their first paycheques, that is. Then they'll learn the cold, hard truth about the NHL's new world order.

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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